LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the Bellarmine men’s basketball team, it was a 13 ½-hour bus ride back from Jacksonville, Fla., after losing to Stetson in the ASUN Tournament nearly two weeks ago. And near the end of it, head coach Scott Davenport had a strange request.
He got the players off the buses (it took two, because of social distancing requirements) and spread them out. And told them, “Stay disciplined. You cannot do anything. And they’re looking at me saying, ‘Here he goes with that same speech.’ But I told them we’ve been contacted by the College Basketball Invitational and if we get an invitation, we want to make sure we’re all good. And that perked them up. But we didn’t want to let our guard down for one second.”
That was just before midnight on Friday night. The next day, Davenport and his coaches get to their Knights Hall offices about 11 a.m. Before long they hear basketballs bouncing in the gym and the music turns on, “And I look out there and there’s guys in the gym getting shots up. We haven’t been back 12 hours.”
This is not so much a story of a program getting a bid to the CBI to continue its first-ever season in NCAA Division I.
This is a story about guys who love the game, who showed up for practice on Tuesday all smiles, running around the court like school kids at recess when coaches opened the session with a game of dribble-tag. (Last week, Davenport opened practice one day with a game of dodge ball.)
“All we wanted (after losing in the ASUN Tournament) was a reason to show up for practice on Monday,” Davenport said.
Now the team has it. Bellarmine will face Army next Monday at 8:30 p.m. in the 8-team CBI in Daytona Beach, Fla. Not a single Knights player has ever been to Daytona Beach. The team will fly down Saturday, hoping to shake off the effects of losing their last two games of the season. And looking to add to the remarkable story of its first foray into NCAA’s Division I.
“I’ve witnessed a lot of very, very impressive things over my career,” Davenport said. “Last Wednesday I gathered the staff, at best we weren’t playing for another week and a half, and I told them, ‘Never in my life I don’t think I’ve ever been as inspired by a group of young men all pursuing a common goal.’”
You might hear some grumbling about teams struggling amid COVID restrictions in this year’s tournaments – and that struggle is real. Bellarmine, though, is enjoying life. Davenport took the team to ride go-karts and throw axes on Saturday.
“It’s great to have another game to get ready for,” Bellarmine junior Pedro Bradshaw said. “Daytona Beach, another tournament, guys are excited.”
“I can’t speak for other programs,” Davenport said. “But I know this, any family, office, team, classroom, show me a bunch of people that wants the same thing, and I think you’re going to be very productive. Right now, we’ve got a basketball team that truly loves being around each other. Last Friday we had that beautiful (locker room) screen that Dr. Lynn and Mrs. Lynn took care of, and guys are in there watching conference tournaments and we split it into four games at once. And we engaged everybody. There’s a lot to be said for a love of the game, and these players have a genuine – it’s not fraudulent – love of the game.”
The smiles in practice affirm that. But they also know when to get serious. At one point early in Wednesday’s practice, Davenport didn’t like what he was seeing in a full court drill. He stepped in, told them they looked like they were preparing for a rec league game, and that if it didn’t sharper, they would start practice again from the top.
Players remember their loss to Liberty in the regular season finale, and to Stetson in the tournament. The goal is to respond to this two-game losing streak the way they responded to back-to-back losses to open league play. When that happened, they went on to reel off 10 straight wins.
“We lost those games to Lipscomb, and we got better,” Davenport said. “And now we have that same attitude every day. We have to get better. It just bodes well for the future of the program. The great thing about these practices was that until yesterday, we didn’t know our opponent. It was just about us. There’s a lot to be said about being the best you can be, yourself. This is about us.”
And it’s about the future, and most of all, about embracing one more chance to play a game they love.
“There’s 358 basketball teams and only 92 still practicing, and we’re one of them,” Davenport said. “We just embrace the opportunity. What do you do when you’re truly motivated, in any endeavor? You wait for an opportunity, then make the most of it. That’s where we are right now. . . . My philosophy is that if you’re going to work 50 weeks a year as hard as we work, these two weeks should be really special. We want these players to enjoy it. It’s about them.”
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